It can be a tough thing to see a historic building being demolished, but what about when a suburban mall meets the wrecking ball? After a 63-year run, The Plaza shopping mall in suburban Evergreen Park has been demolished to make way for a newer, more modern outdoor mall. While there are many like it, The Plaza was notable for being one of the early indoor shopping malls in the Chicago area, and despite its staying power, the mall had become underutilized over the last several years. So called “dead malls” are nothing new, and if anything, they’re becoming more and more common. With the age of internet shopping and the massive reverse migration of residents leaving the suburbs for the city, many suburban malls have fallen into disrepair and have few, if any, major anchor stores left. One photographer, Martin Gonzalez, has been keeping up with the demolition of The Plaza and has been posting photos over the last several months. Here’s a quick look at some of his images of the fallen Plaza mall.
The pictures suggest ruin and decay, images Americans might more commonly associate with places like Detroit rather than the suburbs. But, the question that starts this article gets at this issue: should we take pleasure in seeing the suburban shopping mall – example of American consumerism, tacky architecture, and the social lives of teenagers with nowhere else to go – destroyed? That this mall failed could be used as evidence that critics of the suburbs were right: the whole system was not sustainable. Yet, there is fallout from this: how will the land get used? What happens to those jobs? Where is the local money that used to be spent here now going? Does the demise of the suburban shopping mall lead to more concentrated and authentic spaces (perhaps the New Urbanist dream) or increased fragmentation (big box stores and online shopping)?